Top 11 Tips to Prevent Back Pain At Work

| February 19, 2013

Having the best designed and most ergonomically-friendly office equipment may not necessarily mean much for preventing back pain, neck pain and other pain if such equipment is out of sync with your workstation, as confirmed in a recent study that provides a great forum for examining how you can adjust an office chair to your work environment.

Detailed in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a new study found that workers who received not only new ergonomic office furniture but professional set-up by an ergonomist had less symptoms of musculoskeletal pain and eyestrain 18 months later than those workers who had to set up their new furniture on their own based off instructions.

Now what if your employer can’t afford to hire a professional ergonomist to visit your office during these tough economic times? Well, there are still many ways to be proactive when setting up your office chair and desk just right to your needs and the principles of ergonomics.

  1. Understand the Ultimate Goal
    Having a special chair is often viewed as the be-all, end-all of correct office ergonomics. While an ergonomically-designed chair can certainly do wonders, remember that the ultimate goal is to achieve balance between finding a work chair that fits you, provides good support and minimizes stress on the back, and using it correctly in relation to your work environment.Before providing instant analysis of your chair, examine other factors, including your optimal desk level, how you sit, and the height of your computer screen, and strive to improve on these areas.
  2. Get Suited to Your Work Surface
    Rather than just going out and buying a new chair, ask yourself “what type of chair will fit your work station?” Examine how long you sit all day and how you sit at your desk. Are you semi-seated (similar to sitting on a bar stool) or do you sit straight up? Do you need to adjust your chair? Where is your computer in relation to your body? Determine your appropriate work surface (which takes into account the position of your arms, elbows and hands in relation to your desk’s height and your laptop or desktop computer) and be sure to have a chair that allows you to attain this specific height. The correct surface level can vary from profession to profession (for example, architects and draftsmen often prefer to sit higher), and the final decision as to what’s appropriate is thus determined by each individual.
  3. Become a Series of Right Angles While Sitting and Typing
    Sit down straight and as close and comfortable as possible to your desk, with your upper arms parallel to the spine and your hands rested on the work surface. At this point, take a step back and examine whether your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. If they are not, adjust your office chair higher or lower as deemed fit. Also make sure that your legs are bent at the knees at a 90 degree angle. Try to maintain this ideal sitting posture as much as possible, and if you find yourself slacking, give yourself a break by getting up and stretching.
  4. Don’t Sit Too High Unless Necessary
    Did you know that all of our ankles swell up anywhere from 6 to 8 percent by the end of the day, but for patients with back, leg or circulation problems, this swelling can jump from 10 to 15 percent, especially if sitting in a chair that is too high and leaves the feet dangling? Generally speaking, a seat height ranging from 16 to 21 inches off the ground is suitable for most workers. To tell whether your chair is too high or at the right height for the desk surface, slide your finger underneath your thigh at the front end of the chair. If this proves easy to do, your chair is likely at a good height. However, if this proves difficult, your chair is likely too high, which can put extra pressure on your feet and require you to proceed to the next tip.

  5. Boost Your Feet in Certain Situations
    In situations where you have to lift your feet off the ground because of a chair or even a desk that is too high, or where the chair height is right but you’re not that tall, consider using a foot stool to prop and rest your feet as opposed to leaving them hanging all day long.Such action will reduce both pressure on the feet and the likelihood of foot pain at the end of the day.
  6. Raise the Work Surface When Applicable
    If you’re unusually tall, you may be familiar with this problem: there is too much room between your thigh and chair. If there is more than a finger width between your thigh and chair, consider raising the height of your work surface/desk, which will then allow you to raise your chair to a more suitable height that reduces this gap between your thigh and chair
  7. Make a Fist to Your Calf
    Ensure that there is enough room between the front edge of your chair and calves by simply making a fist, bringing it to the edge of the chair and pushing it on the calf. If you can fit your full fist between the front edge and your calf, you likely have enough space for circulation and pressure. If not, your chair is likely too deep. Adjusting the backrest forward, inserting a cushion, pillow or rolled-up towel to support your lumbar spine (lower back), or purchasing a new office chair are some possible solutions to this problem.
  8. Have the Support of Your Back
    Back support is a main focus of many ergonomic chairs, but what makes a chair good in terms of supporting the back? Ideally your work chair should do a couple of things: provide back support angling just past 90 degrees or up to 90 degrees, and include cushioning that pushes your back forward when sitting back in the chair. Such low back support is essential in preventing slouching as you tire and minimizing the load or strain on your back. With this in mind, the backrest of an ideal ergonomic office chair is typically between 12 and 19 inches wide.
  9. Sit Right
    A lot of times, workers have chairs with great back support but don’t take advantage of these features because they sit on the edge of the chair. Make a conscious effort to press your bottom against the back of the chair, and avoid slumping or slouching, which places extra stress on the lumbar discs and other structures of the lower back.
  10. Apply A Different Kind of Eye Test
    Once your chair has been adjusted to the height of the table, your legs have gotten comfortable and your back is supported, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Casually look forward with your eyes closed, and then open your eyes, which should be aimed at the center of your computer screen. Depending on whether the computer screen is higher or lower than your gaze, you may need to raise or lower the monitor. If you need to raise your laptop, consider using a stack of books or even a small box, which has personally helped me reduce the likelihood of neck strain at work.
  11. Adjust Your Armrests
    Armrests play an important role in reducing neck and shoulder strain and diminishing the likelihood of slouching forward in your chair. Adjust the armrest to the point where your arms are slightly lifted at the shoulders. Doing so will allow the armrest to support just the elbow and take weight off the shoulders.

Perhaps after making all these changes, you ultimately decide that you do need a new office chair.

If you find yourself in the market for a new chair, you’ll want to consider many factors, including the seat’s height, width, depth, materials, armrests, back rest, lumbar support and swivel.

Source: www.spine-health.com; January 19, 2013.

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